I decided to name this post Rainbow, not just because Sienna is my rainbow baby but because I had my maternity leave through the Coronavirus lockdown of 2020, of which the rainbow became symbolic. For those that aren’t familiar with the terminology, a rainbow baby is a baby conceived after miscarriage, stillbirth or baby loss. It’s the rainbow after a storm. This is my account of pregnancy after loss and maternity leave during lockdown, however, I’m sure some of it would resonate with any new mums or mums to be. This is a very honest account and may include some triggers for people, I don’t aim to offend or upset so please read this cautiously.
I knew I was pregnant before I took the test. I’d only had one period in between my miscarriage and the new pregnancy so I recognised the symptoms. I can’t even remember telling my husband, this makes me really sad. I know that when I did, it was uneventful and we both just kind of half acknowledged it. This is in stark contrast to my previous pregnancy. I waited hours, full of excitement, for my husband to come home so I could tell him. When he came home, I told him and he was so excited he high-fived the cat! It hurts that we will never celebrate a pregnancy like that again, with the innocence and naivety of never having lost. There was too much fear, too much knowledge and too little hope to celebrate a pregnancy so early on for us. I didn’t want to neglect the new baby by not being excited but I was still grieving my twins. I had reinstalled the pregnancy apps on my phone which had remembered my old data. So instantly, it flashed up how many weeks pregnant I would be with the twins. A new pregnancy doesn’t override the grief, it adds a whole new layer to it.
“The difficulty with telling people is that some people assume that this must mean that you are fixed, better, over it“
I vowed after last time not to keep this pregnancy a big secret. I shared it with a few people, friends, family and colleagues that supported us through our loss. If this pregnancy was to end in miscarriage, I wouldn’t keep that to myself so I wanted people to already know that I was pregnant. When I lost the twins, I found it much harder to tell the people that didn’t know I had been pregnant. The difficulty with telling people is that some people assume that this must mean that you are fixed, better, over it. They don’t see you as grieving anymore and many can’t understand why you’re not overjoyed.
Something I really struggled with was other people’s pregnancy announcements. It was a big fear for me. Although I was happy for them, it made me more scared for me. I didn’t want constant reminders of my loss if baby didn’t survive and theirs did. I didn’t want to get attached to their babies. I couldn’t be excited for my own pregnancy and I couldn’t be excited for theirs. I was jealous of those who were happily pregnant, planning their pregnancy and their birth and their living child like it’s a given. I was crippled with anxiety and didn’t dare to think further than the following week. All I could think was that their baby would survive and mine wouldn’t. I didn’t like thinking this way and you may think I’m a bad person for it but these were my feelings and this is my story and what would be the point if I wasn’t honest? I had to remind myself that every successful pregnancy, every living child was sticking two fingers up at miscarriage and baby loss and that should always be celebrated. Having family and friends of child bearing age meant I was bound to be pregnant alongside some of them. It was really hard and felt like an immense pressure. If anything goes wrong with my pregnancy, their child would be constant reminder of someone the same age that my child should have been. I didn’t even know if I could have a successful pregnancy. I wanted to feel overjoyed and excited at having pregnancy buddies and think about our babies playing together and all the rest of the things that normal parents can think about. Mutual friends would say “How exciting that you’re pregnant together!” and I really wouldn’t know how to respond. One of the mums who had told me that she was pregnant too has had previous losses and unfortunately lost this pregnancy too. When she told me, I was distraught and cried in to my husband’s arms.
I was adamant that I would not have any early scans in this pregnancy. Mainly because last time I had several early scans and each one gave me a new thing to worry about. I wanted to be really strong and have a ‘what will be will be’ attitude. It didn’t go that way, twice I spoke to the Early Pregnancy Unit about pains that I was having and twice I had scans, at 6 weeks and again at 9 weeks. The 6 week scan did bring relief because it ruled out ectopic pregnancy and chemical pregnancy, which were fears that I had. It also made me anxious because of something they found on the scan, which turned out not to be a problem but of course I set about Googling and convinced myself there was no way this pregnancy will survive. The 9 week scan was amazing. All the way though the twin’s pregnancy, I had to have internal scans as they were measuring so small. This time I got to have an abdominal scan and the baby was bigger than the twins had ever been. There was a strong heartbeat and nothing to worry about in the notes. Initially I was so happy. It was the first point that I was able to refer to ‘the baby’ rather than ‘the pregnancy’. That said, I was still very detached. I felt guilty for that. I felt guilty for being proud that this baby has got further than the twins because I didn’t want the twins to feel like they let me down. I felt guilty for thinking about what the twins scan would have looked like at 9 weeks if they hadn’t stopped growing. How far apart would they be? Would they be the same size? Would they be facing each other?
“I kept telling myself that I’d feel better at certain milestones but I never did“
Anyone that’s had more than one pregnancy will tell you that no pregnancy is the same. That’s really difficult because there is comfort in recognition. With this pregnancy, I panicked when the symptoms were different, I panicked when they were the same. I was basically a ball of panic, how I functioned in everyday life was an absolute miracle. When I was laughing with people and talking about what I did at the weekend, there was a boatload of anxiety underneath.
I kept telling myself that I’d feel better at certain milestones but I never did. I think I just needed those short-term goals to see me through. My anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that I needed regular growth scans as the baby would often have long periods of reduced movements. Truth be told I never believed that Sienna would be here. I left it as late as possible to buy things because I didn’t want to have to look at a nursery full of things that wouldn’t be getting used by my baby. I firmly believed that if I didn’t lose her during pregnancy then I’d lose her at the birth.
All in all, Sienna’s birth was pretty straightforward. The growth scans started to show that she wasn’t growing as she should and blood wasn’t flowing to and from the placenta as it should, so I was told at 38 weeks that I would have to be induced. I was told I wouldn’t be able to have the water birth that I had hoped for and that I would be attached to monitors throughout. I was induced at 2pm on the Sunday afternoon, contractions started around 5pm, waters broke around 2am Monday morning and she arrived at 8.25am. I wasn’t in active labour for very long, I went from 5cm to pushing her out very quickly and wasn’t measured in between. When I got to the point where I wanted pain relief I couldn’t have it as Sienna’s heartrate had dropped so I was put on a drip and it was too dangerous to have anything that crossed the placenta and too late for an epidural, the gas and air made me vomit so it was a case of keep calm and carry on, without the calm bit.
“I was in complete and utter shock“
When they said she was here and my body stopped pushing I lay back in relief. I was just gathering myself when I heard a baby crying. I was in complete and utter shock. I knew I was a pregnant person giving birth but I never expected there to be a baby. I know that makes no sense but maybe some of you reading this will understand. Sienna was placed in my arms and I was in complete disbelief. That feeling of instant love that you get when you’re handed your baby, yeah I didn’t get that. I was in awe and I was obsessed but I wasn’t in love, not yet. I felt guilty about this for a long time but I’ve since met many mums who were the same. Sienna was so fragile, I didn’t want to hold her, I didn’t want to touch her, she wasn’t safe with me. I was desperate to hand her over to her dad and did so at the first opportunity. I did have my power hour with her at first where we delayed cord clamping and did her first feed. Then I passed her over to her dad while I had my checks. I couldn’t take my eyes off them together, I wanted to know her but I didn’t want to break her. I wanted to love her but I still felt like I would lose her.
Some time had passed, I’d had a bath and something to eat and drink and I sat down to give Sienna another feed. The midwives left and it was just the three of us. Sienna had a feed then settled in to a snooze on my chest. I can’t explain it now but when I looked down at her something didn’t seem right, she looked different and felt different in my arms, something was wrong. I picked her up to get a better look at her and she went blue and flopped forwards, completely limp in my arms. We panicked, my husband went to get someone to help, loads of doctors rushed in and grabbed her off me and took her to the other side of the room. I was still sitting up in the bed and my husband was pacing the room behind the crowds trying to see what was happening, every so often he would look over at me with fear and desperation in his eyes. I was frozen, it was like watching a film. Then I realised that I was sitting there watching this film while sipping on a cup of tea, feeling the most calm that I’d felt in a year. The guilt of this moment sickens me to this day but I actually felt relief. I no longer had to be anxious as this was the end, I’d expected this. I don’t know how long it actually took but it felt like a long time before they gave her back to me. They’d cleared her airways and brought her round but she had a low temperature and had to be under a special lamp for a while before we could take her to the ward. Eventually we were all good to go to the ward. Following that we had to stay in for three days as Sienna’s blood sugar was low and she had to have blood tests every three hours. Something had clicked at this point and my mindset completely changed, I was besotted with her and I knew she would be fine and I wanted to take her home and begin life as a family. We were told to stay in until she had three successful blood tests in a row and because her blood sugar was low she was a very sleepy baby and wasn’t feeding often enough which meant her blood sugars weren’t increasing so we spent those days going around in circles until the hospital gave her some formula and some glucose to give her a boost and this gave her the kickstart that she needed. The time came and we got to bring our little miracle home. It was the most surreal car journey I’ve ever done.
The Newborn bit
Even the word newborn makes me shudder. I’m well aware that a lot of mums love the newborn bit, settle in to it well, have babies that sleep, walk with a spring in their step and a full face of make up, born to be mums blah blah blah etc etc. This was not me. If it’s not you, I’m with you sister.
“the whole thing felt relentless”
Sienna is wonderful and I love her to pieces, but she was not an easy newborn, by any stretch. I was not a calm and collected mum so we were quite the chaotic combination. Sienna did not sleep at night time. She slept a lot in the day and was awake all night. Not just lying awake loving life, screaming full pelt as if she was in pain, constantly, I mean constantly. I have recently found texts sent to my friend at 7am saying that I hadn’t been to sleep yet. I remember it vividly, my husband and I would be up all night trying anything we could think of to get this baby to stop crying and it was absolute hell. She was inconsolable and the whole thing felt relentless. My husband’s alarm would go off and it was time for him to go to work and we hadn’t been to sleep. I felt resentful that he was getting a break, he felt resentful of having to work having had no sleep and this would continue for weeks. We lived off cake and super noodles for that first month, we had to get people to bring us things like food, washing powder, basic essentials. We would go hours where we forgot to eat, drink, wash. At one point my midwife demanded that I are a hot meal, had something to drink and went to sleep and that someone gave Sienna formula for a few feeds to give me some rest. I thought all this was completely normal until my friends started having their babies and this wasn’t happening to them, they coped, they slept a bit, they ate, they were clean. Where was I going wrong? After 5 weeks or so she started to sleep for two hours at a time so we were able to get some rest, this continued until she was 6 months old. Whenever someone I know announces their birth of their baby, I think about them constantly and let them know I’m here for them in case they are going through anything as dramatic as we did. So far, I don’t know anyone who has found it as hard as I did and have had people tell me that they never found being a mum a struggle, so I don’t know where we went wrong and it terrifies me to think of having any more children as I’m clearly not very good at the newborn bit! But if anyone reading this is going through similar things then you’re not alone, I too was that mama!
We found out at about 4 weeks old that Sienna had pretty bad reflux. She would be sick all day every day, sometimes as much as 5 times in half an hour. I’d spend the day repeatedly dressing and undressing her. This explained why the first 4 weeks had been so difficult for us, she was in a lot of pain when she was lying on her back so sleep was impossible. At about 8 weeks old I started taking Sienna to mum and baby classes, her reflux was still pretty bad at this point and she would often cry loudly and inconsolably and be sick everywhere. I spent a lot of time feeling like such an incompetent mum looking at these other mums who looked great and their babies were calm and quiet and not covered in sick. My hair smelt like sick permanently for 6 months.
We started weaning Sienna at 5 months as it’s recommended to do it earlier for reflux and moved her in to her own room shortly before she turned 6 months. The weaning made the reflux worse at first but then settled it and since she started eating three meals a day the reflux went away. She much preferred sleeping in her own room so she stopped waking us up through the night and we all slept much better. If somebody had told me that I would barely sleep for 6 months I wouldn’t have believed them! Living a sleep deprived life is really really hard, your brain is working on the absolute minimum and you’ve got to keep a tiny human alive, it’s a lot of pressure! Your hormones are already all over the place yet sleep deprivation makes you so emotional and delicate. It can give you anxiety or make your anxiety worse. It can make you somewhat irrational. It can be such a tough time going through the newborn stage.
I feel incredibly lucky that I got to have 4 months of normal maternity leave before lockdown. I could have people come and visit and help out with the baby, I could go to mum and baby classes, I could and often did go out for lunch or coffee or cake with my mum pals. It was great, I really enjoyed that time and got to spend it with a lovely bunch of people.
When lockdown hit, I became incredibly lonely. I had already felt a bit lonely after giving birth because Sienna was so different to other babies and I was so stressed and sleep deprived and felt very alone. I had a lot of guilt and grief that I was still processing and all in all I felt like a really shit mum. I couldn’t do it and I wasn’t coping. The only thing keeping me going was getting out and spending time with other mums and that wasn’t an option anymore. People were doing online quizzes and zoom calls and creating new communities online and I didn’t have the time or energy so felt even more isolated. Maternity leave is a difficult time because your old life carries on without you and your new life is very new and you’re still getting your head around it and your social life is with a lot of people that you don’t know and they don’t know you and then with lockdown all your communication goes digital and you lose that personal touch.
“There have been some really good things that have come from lockdown”
I did everything I could to make the most of it, I tried a lot of online baby classes and threw myself in to creating themed sensory play areas for Sienna. I don’t know how much of it she took in at that age but I really enjoyed it and it gave me a sense of purpose and routine. I joined Mummyfit to do online fitness classes which was good for a sense of achievement and again routine. There have been some really good things that have come from lockdown. Although it took some adjusting working out how to share the space, having daddy work from home has been brilliant for us all. I’ve been able to get help and Sienna has seen lots of daddy. It’s a bit torturous at times to spend the day alone with a baby and have your husband sit opposite you but not speak to you all day as he’s in meetings. Like being able to see what you could have won. Also, when you’re having one of those days where the baby is super clingy and needy and you’re desperate for a break and your husband is right there but again in meetings all day. It’s tough. That said, when he finishes work he is instantly at home and we love that. He gets to do breakfast with Sienna every morning and bath time every night and that’s their special time together.
I really feel for the women who have been pregnant and given birth during lockdown. To attend scans on your own must be incredibly daunting. Not to mention those that go to scans alone and find out that they’ve miscarried, without their partner by their side. I can’t even think about that. Going through the majority of labour on your own to have your partner flash in for the main bit and then flash back out again after. It’s sad and it feels so wrong when people can still go to pubs in groups of six.
The end of maternity leave
I can’t believe I’m writing about the end of maternity leave. Everyone tells you how fast it goes but it really does go incredibly fast. Here we are transitioning in to our new life, again. Sienna has had a few settling in days at nursery and is having her first full day today, hence why I’ve had time to write something so long! I’m back at work full time next week. It’s a big change and I feel her slipping through my fingers. She’s already showing much more independence after a few settling in sessions at nursery and I feel like I hardly see her anymore. It’s such a change going from being with someone 24/7 for 10 months to barely seeing them. I feel like half of me has been ripped out. That said, she is thriving and absolutely loves nursery which makes me feel really proud. I’m looking forward to working again, thinking about things other than weaning and naps and feeling a bit more like a person and not just a mum. I really hope my account has been of some comfort to someone somewhere! If you recognise yourself in any of this then do drop me a line, it would be nice to know that it wasn’t just me, a floundering fish surrounded by natural mums! Whatever your situation, if you’re reading this and you’re a parent, I’m sure you’re doing a great job. Just make sure you have a decent stash of gin. Especially when baby is teething.